after a professional bike fit

What to Expect After a Professional Bike Fit



By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach,
co-author of “Ride Inside“,
The Time-Crunched Cyclist

Changes to your bike fit can happen gradually and inadvertently, until one day you just don’t feel right on the bike anymore. For me, it was a combination of travel and a slowly wearing saddle. As I repeatedly disassembled and reassembled my bike for trips, the saddle position lowered incrementally to accommodate tight hamstrings and a tired back. As I searched for a replacement saddle, differences in saddle widths and lengths led to confusion about the proper fore-aft position. Somewhere along the way I flipped the order of headset spacers. 

Many years ago, Dr. Andy Pruitt, the founder of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, told me – as he has told thousands of others – that the bicycle is adjustable and the body is adaptable. And, as expected, my body adapted to the accidental adjustments as I made them. But following a period of reduced training, I returned to the bike and the accumulated errors of my ways became evident. I felt both uncomfortable and underpowered on the same bicycle – and in the same position – that had been “fine” just a few months earlier. 

So, I phoned a friend. Renee Eastman is a CTS Premier Coach who has been a Retül bike fitter for more than a dozen years. (You can schedule a fit with Renee at Criterium Bike Shop in Colorado Springs, CO.) She ran me through the protocol, reset my saddle and handlebar positions appropriately (i.e., raised both), provided some guidance on follow-up, and sent me on my way. 

There’s a lot of information out there about why you should get a professional bike fit, and what to expect during a bike fit. But nobody tells you what to expect after a bike fit.

You may feel “weird” on the bike initially

Whether you feel better or potentially worse on your first post-fit bike ride may depend on the purpose of the fit in the first place. If you went to a bike fitter because you were in pain (e.g., knee or lower back pain) or were experiencing numbness in your hands or feet, the adjustments may correct a biomechanical error that was directly responsible. As a result, you should experience positive, pain-free results immediately or nearly immediately. 

On the other hand, if you go to a bike fitter to make a performance or aerodynamic adjustment, your new position may feel a little “off” at first. The goal of a performance bike fit is to position a rider to produce more power and/or to be able to sustain power for longer. Likewise, the goal of an aerodynamic-centered bike fit is to position a rider to produce power with less aerodynamic drag (or more power with the same drag). These changes to your body position affect the lengths of muscles when they are at their highest tension. They change the neuromuscular coordination of muscle contractions from your toes to your neck. In short, it takes time for your body to recalibrate to a new position – even if you only move your saddle or handlebars 5 millimeters.

It will take time to achieve full power in a new position

An even more nuanced version of “you may feel weird on the bike” is that your first ride may feel fantastic! The novel position may feel great and powerful on Day One… because it’s novel. But then the different muscle usage patterns will lead to premature fatigue as you adapt to the position. On subsequent rides, you may notice you feel fine pedaling easy but can’t sustain prolonged threshold efforts on climbs or on the indoor trainer. As you reconfigure the subtle ways you apply power to the pedals, you should gradually see your power for sustained efforts – and the duration of those efforts – increase.

When should you have a bike fit?

The initial adaptation period is one of the main reasons coaches and bike fitters recommend adjustments to bike fit during periods of lower-intensity and/or lower-volume training. Ideally, you adjust bike fit far ahead of goal events, during a low intensity, generalized endurance training period. This gives you time to adapt to the position in a low-pressure training environment and gradually gain strength and power in your new position. The position doesn’t make you powerful, only adapting to it does. 

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Should you make secondary adjustments?

I have always been a “princess and the pea” cyclist. You know the type, the rider who stops mid-ride or multiple times during a ride to adjust the saddle… the one who carries a measuring tape! Yeah, that’s me. Meanwhile, my friends can eyeball saddle position and ride a century with no complaint. My point is, I’m likely to be the rider who doubts my newly adjusted position (despite it being confirmed by a professional) because of the weirdness and low power mentioned above. 

Be PATIENT! You may in fact need or want to make secondary adjustments to your fit. Bike fit professionals readily acknowledge that positioning a rider on a bike is part science and part art. There are formulas, but you are more than a sum of your joint angles. The key is to give yourself time to adapt to the new position before making subsequent adjustments. If you are riding 3-5 times per week for a total of 8+ hours weekly, give yourself three weeks before you move anything. 

The exception to this recommendation is if you are experiencing acute, sharp pain in a joint, tendon, or muscle. Or, if muscle soreness continues to worsen after the first week. In either of these cases, get a follow-up consult with your bike fitter. You may also want to consult with a physical therapist. 

Proactively train for your new bike position

A bike fit is not meant to be a one-time fix. It is the “adjustment” step of the “adjustment/adaptation” balance Dr. Pruitt talked about. Your next job is to use training activities to adapt to the position. In my case, Renee raised my saddle about 5 millimeters and moved my cleats forward on my shoes to put the balls of my feet closer to the pedal spindle. As a result, my legs are more extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke, which means greater lengthening and tension on my hamstring and calf muscles. My job off the bike is to work on hip and ankle mobility exercises to accommodate and adapt to the stretch. To keep my knees from diving inward due to internal rotation of the hips, I must address outward rotation with exercises like clamshells, banded monster walks, hip bridges, and rear leg lifts. 

The strength and mobility exercises that will help you adapt to your new position will obviously be specific to your needs. However, be sure to talk with your bike fitter about this process so can adequately develop the strength and stability necessary to ride comfortably and powerfully in your new position.

Fit or Fitness, which comes first?

One question I’ve discussed with Renee and other bike fit specialists is: Should a cyclist get a bike fit with their current level of mobility and strength; or should they resolve mobility and strength deficits before getting a bike fit? The resounding recommendation is to get the bike fit first. Yes, you may be painfully aware that you have terrible hamstring flexibility or that you lack core strength. And you may know that addressing those things with yoga and stretching and strength training would help a great deal. But fit the bike to the person you are right now, and then do the work that enables you to make further adjustments to your riding position. 

In summary, after a professional bike fit you want to be patient, be diligent, and have faith. Initially, the changes may result in some discomfort and loss of power. A few weeks of easy to moderate hours on the bike and mobility and strength work off the bike should put you right where you need to be. 

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Comments 2

  1. Hi, I am experiencing pain in the groin and surrounding area after a 2+ hrs ride and yet I can do an indoor session for 1.5hrs and feel no pain or discomfort. What could be the cause of the pain and discomfort?

    1. If you are riding the same bike for both indoors and outdoors then I would suggest that you are sitting differently on the saddle between the two bikes and that might be why you experience discomfort outside vs inside. I often see people sit up higher and ride on the tops indoors and then when outdoors ride lower and on the hoods. That lower position would account for perhaps more discomfort.
      Other than that, when someone is experiencing saddle discomfort I’m going to first make sure that they are on a saddle wide enough for their sit bones. I’ll make sure that saddle is level and that the reach to the bars is right for their flexibility range. Then if still uncomfortable I’ll recommend trying a different saddle with a different shape to find what works best for their anatomy.

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